by contributing translation editor James Manteith

Photo: Irina Serpuchyonok

Just a few days remain until the planned presentation, in St. Petersburg, of the latest issue of Apraksin Blues, №29, “The Career of Freedom.” As in 2015, for the presentation of №25, “Of all the…,” editor in chief Tatyana Apraksina and I have an opportunity to travel from one of the magazine’s other bases, in California’s Santa Lucia mountains, to St. Petersburg for this presentation. Since our last trip, the three issues released in the interval (“Non-Return,” “The Vector of Translation,” “The Reefs of Conflict”) have gone out to AB’s readers and contributors in Russia through the help of our capable St. Petersburg support team.


A milestone of that earlier trip and presentation was AB regaining use of its historical St. Petersburg editorial office, where the presentation was held, along with many other meetings with friends of the magazine. During this current trip, November 5-December 6, 2019, the presentation is again planned for the editorial office on Apraksin Lane. Adding another dimension this time, miraculously, the adjacent space formerly used as Tatyana Apraksina’s art studio has also come back under the care of the artist. For the first time in more than twenty years, for the first time in the new millennium, AB has a place to lead from, work from, and interact from with the magazine’s supporters in the city and amid the very walls of its founding — within the city and walls its pages have grown from, and which remain like gates opening into and uniting new places and themes.


Understandably, as with the editorial office, resuscitating the studio will take a considerable effort. It will be different than before. Again, though, all this enables a precious continuity between past and future in AB’s cultural community, raising hopes that this past is alive and meant for dynamic permanence; that the ideals and evidence crystallized in and around AB are meant to enrich the future; and that, in the present, AB’s friends are empowered to decide and create the future they want for themselves.


As I write, on the day of our departure from the Santa Lucias, the initial run of “The Career of Freedom” is at the printers in St. Petersburg. The experience of nearly a year working on this issue remains fresh. As the issue reaches readers and is complemented by meetings with and among many of its authors, the vitality of the thoughts and minds that converge in the issue will be felt directly and will move toward new manifestations. Some of AB’s authors and readers know each other, or of each other, already; some will be encountering each other and the magazine itself for the first time; all will have a chance to see ideas, stories, aspirations given a new account, in a newly illuminating synthesis.


AB’s editor in chief, of course, has crafted and proofed this issue carefully. She has read through its pages many times, with the sum of this reading and other accompanying actions and intuitions reflected in an introductory statement, the “Blues Mondo.” As always, each of the materials in this issue has colored and will continue to inform AB’s life in its own way.


Asked what it was like to work on this issue, Apraksina commented, “Every issue is a process of searching for a kind of philosopher’s stone in a different form, from a different angle. The main thing for a given issue could be centered in one piece or dispersed across parts. Everything serves as a useful tool, even if it doesn’t seem to contain much of anything. Sometimes there’s an inner connection in hints, in phrases. Even totally unconnected authors turn out to be saying exactly the same thing. ‘Blues’ arises naturally from a condition of the atmosphere.”


Once again, readers will now have a chance to discover these inner connections, these hints and phrases pointing to the main thing, for themselves. For a start, it should be easy to determine the source of the issue’s title, derived from contributor Olga Shilova’s article of the same name, on the Decembrist Mikhail Lunin. The phrase itself belongs to Lunin, who used these words to describe his own life’s orientation. This orientation, of course, led him on a path of exile and deprivation, but also of liberation, of becoming himself, of embodying his values and sensibilities on a new scale and in contexts of being far beyond his native environment, and yet serving as a form of offering to enlarge human definitions anywhere. Kindred priorities, lived in extremely diverse ways, might be glimpsed among other lives contemplated in this issue: Emily Dickinson, Milarepa, Catullus, and others. And through all, the supreme life and “living logic” of the Trinity.


As the life of Apraksin Blues continues, “Translation Department” and other voices of this community will continue to report and dialog from this constellation of cultural unities and affinities — and partitioning for the sake of their higher and fuller realization, as Apraksina’s new Mondo suggests. As new material from original Russian AB issues appears in translation, “Translation Department” will alert readers to these premieres, as well as providing background to pieces and speaking of the mind of translation and cross-cultural engagement on the whole. Having translated and written for AB for more than two decades now, I can and will provide more windows on the joys, struggles and insights for which this modestly enduring publication serves as a locus point — true to its founding principles, continuing to stand on Peter’s rock.

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